Saturday, August 17, 2013

My review of Elizabeth Berg's Tapestry of Fortunes

Who doesn’t wonder “What if?” about former flames, roads not taken, wrongs not righted? Whose heart doesn’t flutter or freeze at the prospect of changing old decisions? In Elizabeth Berg’s Tapestry of Fortunes, Cece, Joni, Renie, and Lise—four women asking these questions, grappling with these fears—take a figurative and literal road trip to new possibilities.

In this regard, Berg’s signature style shines. She expertly expresses real women’s hearts. As a reader, I want to be on this road trip with the characters. I myself would like to knock on the door of some dreams. I, too, would like to change some unknowns to knowns. I imagine many readers of a certain age might feel the same. In addition to being a gentle nudge in the discovery direction, this novel is just plain fun to read.

Although my actual life situations do not match Cece’s, Joni’s, Renie’s, and Lise’s, I can identify with their longings and fears, their disappointments and joys. This is a credit to Berg’s insightful portrayal of real women. I find other aspects of the story incongruent, however. The Tapestry of Fortunes title comes partly from the characters’ basing life-changing decisions on a fortune teller, tarot cards, I Ching, tea leaves, and other powerless practices. Really? All four of these bright women do this? Their human hunger for the supernatural leads them to seek life guidance from dead things? And then they take big risks based on this advice? [Such life-strategy methods remind me of ancient Greeks who sought answers from an oracle who answered their questions by reading cobwebs.] This makes about as much sense to me as hoping for something beyond my own grasp and relying on crossing my fingers to get it instead of praying to a loving, living God who actually has the power to fulfill my hope.

Another incongruity was what I perceived to be Southern drawls of people the women met on their journey. Since all four of the women’s destinations were in Northern states, these accents and down-home expressions, though entertaining, didn’t make sense to me. Yet another incongruity, or at least it seemed so to me, was that a male character, a professional photographer apparently famous enough to be requested for international gigs, was declared “not … Googleable” by Cece. She had to track him down through non-Google methods. Okay, I’ll play along, but that scenario is not likely.

That said, I did enjoy this novel. The tapestry Berg weaves has more than lame fortune-telling threads in it. The characters’ fortunes, in the sense of chances and outcomes, are colorful, varied, and interesting. Cece has just lost her best friend to cancer and we see her grieving honestly, adjusting, moving on, adjusting some more. Clearly, this precious friend will forever be an important part of Cece’s life. Cece is changed for having known her—and having grieved for her. Another growing-forward thread involves Cece’s recently widowed mother; yet another involves a young, dying man and the woman he loves. Another thread is how downsizing one’s life can expand one’s horizons and certainly lighten one’s load. The friends’ candid, caring banter is a refreshing thread. Berg weaves her tapestry loosely, with a light touch. (Wait till you get to the bowling alley scene!) She ties up threads satisfactorily.

Besides sheer enjoyment, I think what I appreciate most about Tapestry of Fortunes is that each attempt at a no-regrets life bypasses trite positive mental attitude and musters true courage.   

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